Auston Matthews

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Gorton deserves kudos for Rangers’ rebuild on the fly

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This post is part of Rangers Day on PHT…

It’s easy for fans to demand a full-on rebuild when times get tough for their team.

It’s another matter for a general manager to actually commit to years of losing, with no guarantee of brighter days ahead.

For Jeff Gorton, a tear-it-down rebuild was never really an option in New York anyway, even when the Rangers were looking particularly old and worn down. That’s largely because Henrik Lundqvist was signed through 2020-21, and it’s tough to tell your Hall-of-Fame goalie that it’s time to tank.

So the Rangers chose instead to rebuild on the fly.

Two years after replacing Glen Sather, one would have to conclude that Gorton has done a pretty good job in that regard. The Rangers may not be the strongest Stanley Cup contenders next season, but consider:

— Last summer, Gorton was able to use a team with pressure to win now (the Ottawa Senators) to trade Derick Brassard for Mika Zibanejad, the latter of whom is five years younger.

— A year later, Gorton found another team with pressure to get some immediate results (the Arizona Coyotes) and traded Derek Stepan and backup goalie Antti Raanta for the seventh overall draft pick (Lias Andersson) and Anthony DeAngelo, giving the Rangers two more talented youngsters to add to the stable.

— Gorton, whose team’s future had essentially been mortgaged by his predecessor, has been forced to do a lot of his work outside the draft, and the results have been impressive. His most celebrated move was getting Jimmy Vesey to sign, but he’s also added college free agents like John Gilmour and Neal Pionk, and he got Russian defenseman Alexei Bereglazov out of the KHL.

Throw in the fact the Rangers actually kept their first-round pick this year, selecting Czech center Filip Chytil 21st overall, and the future is looking a lot brighter today than, say, in April of 2016.

Oh, and Gorton was also able to sign Kevin Shattenkirk, the most coveted unrestricted free agent of the summer, to a below-market contract with a term of just four years. So that was pretty good, too.

Admittedly, this path may still lead to ruin — or, if not quite ruin, maddening mediocrity. The Rangers still don’t have a future Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews, i.e. the kind of player that typically goes to teams that have bottomed out.

But on the path the Rangers have chosen to take, Gorton has done an admirable job, and for that he deserves credit.

Bovada gives McDavid higher odds than Crosby to win Hart in 2017-18

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In handing Connor McDavid an eight-year, $100 million extension, the Edmonton Oilers essentially are paying the 20-year-old star based on the assumption that he’ll provide MVP-quality play.

At least one Vegas oddsmaker agrees, as Bovada tabbed McDavid as the favorite to win the Hart Trophy, edging Sidney Crosby.

That’s interesting, yet it might be even more interesting to note where other players fall in the rankings. Auston Matthews coming in third is particularly intriguing.

Who are some of the more interesting choices? The 20/1 range seems appealing, as Carey Price is one of the few goalies with the notoriety to push for such honors while John Tavares has the skill and financial motivation to produce the best work of his career next season.

Anyway, entertain yourself with those odds, via Bovada: (Quick note: Bovada originally had Artemi Panarin listed as still playing with Chicago. PHT went ahead and fixed that in the bit below.)

2017 – 2018 – Who will win the Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player?
Connor McDavid (EDM)                         3/2
Sidney Crosby (PIT)                              5/2
Auston Matthews (TOR)                         17/2
Alex Ovechkin (WAS)                            9/1
Patrick Kane (CHI)                                 14/1
Vladimir Tarasenko (STL)                       15/1
Evgeni Malkin (PIT)                                16/1
Carey Price (MON)                                 20/1
John Tavares (NYI)                                20/1
Jamie Benn (DAL)                                 25/1
Steven Stamkos (TB)                             25/1
Erik Karlsson (OTT)                               33/1
Nikita Kucherov (TB)                              33/1
Jack Eichel (BUF)                                  50/1
Ryan Getzlaf (ANA)                               50/1
Patrik Laine (WPG)                                50/1
Brad Marchand (BOS)                            50/1
Tyler Seguin (DAL)                                50/1
Nicklas Backstrom (WAS)                      60/1
Brent Burns (SJ)                                    60/1
Braden Holtby (WAS)                            60/1
Phil Kessel (PIT)                                    60/1
Artemi Panarin (CBJ)                              60/1
Joe Pavelski (SJ)                                  60/1

Sweeney shoots down Pastrnak trade rumors

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Yesterday, the hockey world was brought out of its August slumber when former player, agent and GM Brian Lawton tweeted about a potential trade of talented young Boston sniper David Pastrnak.

Shortly thereafter, the B’s responded.

On Monday evening, GM Don Sweeney sent the Boston Globe a three-word reply to queries about the rumor:

“Not trading Pastrnak.”

OK then!

Sweeney was forced to address the situation after Lawton, who currently works as an analyst for NHL Network, send out the following:

Pastrnak, 21, is coming off a terrific campaign in which he scored 34 goals and 70 points, emerging as one of the best young goalscorers in the league (he, Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid were the three youngest players in the league to hit the 30-goal plateau last year).

Agent J.P. Barry described negotiations as “very open,” adding that both sides still had plenty of time left.

The Globe reports that Pastrnak could be looking to majorly cash in on his banner year, to the tune of $6 million annually. There are also rumblings the Pastrnak camp is waiting to see what kind of deal Leon Draisaitl signs in Edmonton. Draisaitl, like Pastrnak, was a first-round pick in 2014 and, like Pastrnak, is coming off a terrific offensive campaign (29 goals, 77 points).

Trade rumors surface all the time, but what makes the Pastrnak thing so compelling is Boston’s history of dealing away talented young offensive players. Phil Kessel scored 36 goals for the Bruins in 2008-09, and was traded that offseason. He was 21 at the time. Four years later, the B’s sent Tyler Seguin to Dallas. He was also 21.

From ‘pain’ to playoffs, young Maple Leafs face heightened expectations next season

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This post is part of Maple Leafs Day on PHT…

In the span of a year, the Maple Leafs went from the bottom of the NHL standings and front runners in the Auston Matthews Sweepstakes to a playoff spot.

Matthews was taken first overall and made an immediate impact on opening night for a Maple Leafs team — and a fan base — in dire need of hope for a better future.

There is an abundance of hope in Toronto these days.

Matthews scored 40 goals and 69 points and won the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie. William Nylander and Mitch Marner were excellent in their freshman campaigns and Nazem Kadri at age 26 had his best season with career highs in goals (32) and points (61). How quickly the fortunes of an organization can turn around, though, with a lottery win and a shot at a generational talent.

Two years after coach Mike Babcock predicted “pain” for the franchise as it underwent its rebuild, the Maple Leafs made the playoffs. Then they gave the Capitals everything they could handle in six games before Toronto was eliminated.

Maple Leafs fans haven’t had much to get excited about over the years. Never mind their Stanley Cup drought that dates back to 1967. They made the playoffs only once from 2005-06 to 2015-16 and that lone postseason appearance concluded with an epic third-period, Game 7 meltdown versus the Bruins.

This past season, however, had a different feel. The future looks bright, like success beyond 2016-17 can be sustainable. It’s not just with Matthews, Nylander and Marner. On defense, the Maple Leafs have Morgan Rielly, Nikita Zaitsev and Jake Gardiner, and goalie Frederik Andersen bounced back from a difficult start with his new team. He’s under contract for four more years.

Excitement brings higher expectations, for next season and beyond, as the club may be approaching a window to win a lot quicker than many would’ve predicted a year ago.

Take, for instance, today’s poll question: Will the Maple Leafs have the NHL’s best offense next season? That would be a lofty expectation. The results as of the publishing of this post were nearly 50-50.

They’ve even added notable veteran players like Dominic Moore, Ron Hainsey and, at three years and more than $18 million, Patrick Marleau to enhance their roster with more experience.

Their possible success, as is the case with every team, next season will depend on multiple factors. Will Matthews, Marner and Nylander be able to build off their impressive rookie seasons, or will there be a dreaded sophomore slump in there? It will also require their best players to stay as healthy as possible.

All three of their top young forwards were able to remain, for the most part, healthy during the regular season, with Marner playing the fewest games — at 77.

Andersen had the second most starts (66) of all NHL goalies last season, behind only Cam Talbot, and the Leafs will count on him again to provide the goaltending necessary to make the playoffs.

Pressure to win is inherent in playing hockey in Toronto.

Since the second lockout, however, the standard had been set very low. That was until last season, when Matthews and the Maple Leafs went from a painful rebuild to raising expectations.

The hockey world now waits to see if this young and talented team can handle the pressure and set the bar even higher next spring.

Poll: Will the Maple Leafs have the NHL’s best offense next season?

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This post is part of Maple Leafs Day on PHT…

It’s become pretty clear that the Toronto Maple Leafs have a bright future ahead of them.

Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner are all 21 or younger, and they’ve already shown that they’re capable of putting up points at the NHL level.

Last season, the Leafs shocked the hockey world by not only making the postseason (they pushed the Caps in the first round), but also finishing fifth in goals scored.

Sure, they may have given up more goals than any other team in the top five (Penguins, Wild, Capitals, Rangers), but they’re still sorting things out defensively.

Getting back to the offensive side of the puck, what the Maple Leafs were able to accomplish last season was remarkable. Two of their players scored more than 30 goals (Matthews had 40, Nazem Kadri had 32) and they had three guys score 20 or more (James van Riemsdyk had 29, Nylander had 22, Connor Brown had 20), while Marner and Tyler Bozak scored 19 and 18 respectively.

So given the fact that Toronto’s trio of youngsters have a year under their belts and that they brought in Patrick Marleau in free agency, it’s possible that they’ll be even better offensively in 2017-18.

There’s also a chance that Kadri doesn’t score 30 again, but adding Marleau’s 27 goals from last year can definitely compensate for that.

The other top 5 scoring teams in the league all lost key pieces. The Penguins won’t have Nick Bonino or Matt Cullen, the Wild made Martin Hanzal walk in free agency and they also lost Erik Haula and Jason Pominville, the Capitals no longer have Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams, and the Rangers dealt Derek Stepan away to Arizona.

Unless the dreaded sophomore slump hits the Leafs in a big way, they could challenge for that number one spot in the “goals for” category, but will they be able to outscore the rest of the league?

Alright, it’s your turn to vote. As always, feel free to leave your opinion in the comments section below.